McCabe: Let the chase for the Claret Jug begin

John Daly examines his club during a practice round for the 2012 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

John Daly examines his club during a practice round for the 2012 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – Philosophical question, if we may: If you lose a $10 wager, but you’re in this country, do you pay off in pounds?

Matt Kuchar smiled . . . and sure, Matt Kuchar always smiles . . . but in this case he was waiting for Gary Woodland to react. It didn’t take long.

“Take a picture of this,” Woodland said, watching Kuchar slowly remove some money from his wallet. Sitting behind the 18th green, moments after he had gone 3-wood, 6-iron to birdie the 413-yarder and close out his World Cup-winning partner, Woodland laughed. “I think they’re the same 10 one-dollar bills I gave him yesterday.”

Indeed, they were the same, so the answer to the philosophical question was answered, at least in Kuchar's view. The currency of choice during this practice round at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club was American dollars. To heck with that “when in Rome” way of thinking. But Woodland was quick to let Kuchar know that only half the transaction was done, because “I birdied 17, too,” and that meant the long-hitting one from Kansas was owed even more American dollars.

Woodland accepted the additional earnings and considered it a perfect way to wind down his prep work. It’s almost post time, and that seems to please Woodland. Though it hasn’t been the best of years – Woodland has yet to finish within the top 10 in 16 tournaments – he pronounced himself comfortable with the course and ready to go.

“It’s just like home,” he said, a reference to boyhood days in Kansas. “Wind blowing, low shots. The course is right there in front of you, and I think it will be a great test of golf.”

Many would agree with Woodland, whose debut in this major resulted in a T-30 at Royal St. George’s last summer. Just as surely, though, any witness to the annual proceedings at the Open Championship would consider it also a “great testament” to the grandest flavor in the sport.

All one had to do was hang around the 18th green to understand that.

There is the mere confirmation of golf’s global appeal. No sooner had the trio of Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Alvaro Quiros, and Alejandro Canizares – we’re talking a combined 53 letters and serious Latin flair, my friends – regaled their Spanish media friends than K.J. Choi, Sang-Moon Bae, and Toshinori Muto made their way to the 18th hole and spent time with Korean and Japanese reporters.

Now if fans sitting in the bleachers near the 18th hole struggled without a translator, imagine the confusion John Daly felt minutes after he completed his practice round alongside Miguel Angel Jimenez and Pablo Larrazabal.

With his very blond hair waving in the wind, Daly signed autographs and tried his best to ignore a very loud fan.

“Hey, John. Go, Tide,” the man yelled.

No response from Daly.

“Roll, Tide,” the man tweaked his approach.

Head down, Daly kept signing.

Finally, the man tried, “remember St. Andrews,” as if Daly somehow could forget his Open Championship triumph there 17 years ago, but if that had a chance of getting a reaction, the man ruined it by tossing in another, “Roll, Tide.”

Daly kept his head down, though he shook it briskly.

“Go, Hogs,” he said on his way out, never casting even a glance toward the fan.

Good, lighthearted stuff on a day when an atmosphere of utter shock blanketed Royal Lytham St. Annes Golf Club. Not only did the rain stop for the first time since what seems like February, but the sun came out and the sky turned blue.

Repeat: The sun came out and the sky turned blue.

Holy beach blanket bingo, Batman. Toss me the sun screen and shades. It was delightful news, though if anyone deserved kudos for coming through in the clutch, it was caddie John Balmer.

Several weeks ago, he was new on the bag for a PGA Tour rookie named Ted Potter Jr., and it’s unlikely he had serious summer travel plans. Then, Potter scripted a stunning story at The Greenbrier Classic, his dramatic playoff win over Troy Kelly propelling him into some serious “big-stage events.”

First up, this week’s Open Championship, which is not only Potter’s first major, but his first-ever look at a links golf course. One would have to say it’s off to a fairly good start, thanks in part to Balmer, who on Tuesday was asked by Potter to put him in for a Wednesday tee time.

Not only did Balmer deliver a 9:30 slot that pleased Potter, but he added, “Oh, and you’re with Tom Watson.”

Potter’s reaction? “Wow, that’s cool.”

OK, so the unheralded 28-year-old left-hander from Ocala, Fla., comes up a little short of being a “quote machine,” but come on. This all came upon him quickly, and he’s probably still pinching himself. Besides, admittedly, “I’m a shy guy and don’t say much," which is why he spent most of his 18 holes watching one of the true links masters at work.

Potter wasn’t even going to object to Watson’s suggestion at the first tee that there be a little match – “righties against the lefties,” said the five-time winner of the Claret Jug. So it was that Potter and Greg Chalmers took on Watson and Johnson Wagner, a matchup that produced “a lot of laughing, jokes and a lot of fun,” Potter said.

With a birdie at the 18th, the Greenbrier winner helped his team defeat Watson and Wagner and that elicited a positive reaction from a guy who made his Open Championship debut – a win at Carnoustie, no less – nearly eight years before Potter was born.

“Oh, you’re tough,” Watson said. “We owe you some pounds.”

It was the latest highlight to a week that Potter said “has been a blast” since he arrived Monday morning on the charter from the John Deere Classic.

Left unsaid was this sliver of information: Watson apparently was on the other side of Kuchar on the philosophical debate, a man who paid off in pounds on this side of the pond.

That being tabled, the practice sessions have been completed for the 141st Open Championship. It is on to the pursuit of a Claret Jug.

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